We drive to a village on a dirt road, until that road becomes grass, typically only touched by the feet of people and livestock. Power lines run along the horizon. But they are not accessed here. Not in these homes.
The homes and the setting are so beautiful that it would be easy to mistake this as an idyllic existence. A child asks the obvious questions, like “where are their beds?” How odd to leave this place in an expensive, foreign SUV.
I hear Coldplay in a small grocery market filled with fluorescent lights and Western-influenced foods. We search for soy milk. But sometimes the whole country just runs out of things. Regardless, I fill a bag for the equivalent of 10 U.S. dollars.
Outside I am confronted by beggars, some crippled by polio. Some speak in English phrases, such as “I’m hungry,” and others simply put out their hands.
I feel like a guilty suspect as I say no, with food in my hands and a car waiting.
While shopping for souvenirs I am approached by children selling gum and asking to shine my shoes. My canvas shoes. But at least I have shoes. They do not.
I write this blog post while eating shiro and injera. A rerun of Oprah plays with Amharic subtitles in the background. Outside the howls of dogs and hyenas are indistinguishable to my ears. Down the block a guard sits wrapped in blankets and scarves, opening the gate for entering cars.
Sometimes the cries of children at nearby care centers are audible. Maybe they’re scared. They’ve all made long journeys here, and this is only a pitstop.
Oprah ends, and she plugs her “No Phone Zone” pledge. I smile. Because here speed limits are not enforced, any side of the road is fair game, and cows frequently plant themselves in the middle of a street. Cell phones seem to be the least important traffic safety issue.